Part-time Elkhorn resident Ken Lewis is at work this week in Washington, D.C., where he serves on the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Since January he has been churning through news reports and sitting through classified briefings to monitor and investigate national security concerns before reporting to Congress.
“Americans might know that China plays a role in reducing the cost of consumer items, but do they know that China has placed over 1 million Uighur Muslims in containment camps?” he asked.
Lewis was appointed to the 12-member
commission by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in January, after serving on the inaugural commission in 2000.
Six commission members are chosen by Democratic Party leaders and six by Republican leaders.
“This is an extremely transparent process and politics never enters into our discussions,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that since 2000 China has become more powerful and Russia less so.
“South Korea’s gross national product is now greater than Russia’s, despite the fact that Russia has so many raw materials,” he said “Korea also values education more than any place I have ever been to.”
Lewis was born in New York City. He received a degree from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University in 1955, and a law degree from Harvard. In 1963 he joined Lasco Shipping Co., which operated a fleet of ocean-going vessels carrying cargoes throughout the world. He was president of the company from 1979 until his retirement in 1994.
Lewis has been to Asia more than 100 times. His employer shipped the first loads of Weyerhaeuser Co. lumber to China in the 1960s.
“Our relations with China have changed since then,” he said. “The leader of China used to serve four or five years, with a possible extension. Now President Xi Jinping serves for life.”
Lewis said China now controls 35 shipping ports around the world, including the four ports on both ends of the Panama Canal.
“What happens when Chinese naval vessels start moving through those ports?” he asked.
While co-chairing a televised commission hearing on June 20 titled “A ‘World-Class’ Military: Assessing China’s Global Military Ambitions,” Lewis stated that even though China has been remarkably successful at raising its population out of poverty (increasing per capita income by 900 percent and reducing infant mortality by more than 80 percent from 1990 to 2015), the Chinese Communist Party has “doubled down on its most malign instincts.”
“The United States welcomed Beijing into the community of nations and assumed that through engagement and good will, the People’s Republic of China would evolve into a true democratic republic. That assumption is no longer valid today,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he doesn’t think China wants a war with the United States.
“But the Chinese leadership is very bright and they want to have the strongest economy in the world,” he said.
Lewis said the commission’s final reports, due in November, will likely result in proposed legislation regarding China.
To see a full report on ongoing commission hearings, go to www.uscc.gov.